Young WHL stars renewing Pats, Warriors Trans-Canada rivalry
REGINA -- Two of the top three picks in the 2020 WHL draft faced off in the East Division Hub on Tuesday night.
Regina’s Pats forward Connor Bedard, drafted first overall, and Moose Jaw Warrior’s center Brayden Yager, selected third overall, played each other for the first time at the Brandt Centre. Yager's Warriors came out on top in a 5-4 overtime win.
Bedard was given exceptional player status to compete in the WHL full-time as a 15-year old this season. However, due to the pandemic, the league allowed teams to have their under-age players compete, which is why 16-year-old Yager is spending the season in the WHL hub in Regina.
Yager says the opportunity to play 24 games with Moose Jaw at 15-years old is valuable.
“To get to play all the games and establish myself here and get used to the taste and all that, I think it’s a great opportunity for sure,” the Saskatoon product said.
Yager and Bedard had a brief exchange on the ice in the middle of the first period on Tuesday. Yager revealed that the Pats centre praised him for his first WHL point.
“It was a class act by him. He congratulated me on my first goal. It shows what kind of person he is. He’s a great kid. We’re buddies I mean, he didn’t have to do that it was just a nice act,” Yager said.
Yager said the two players met four-years-ago and have been keeping in touch in the WHL hub.
“Throughout the bubble we’ve been talking a little bit. I congratulated him on his first goal,” Yager said.
Warriors head coach Mark O’Leary says these players will help create even more of a rivalry between the two Saskatchewan WHL clubs.
“If it’s a head-to-head match up like that, that’s great. It’s good for Moose Jaw, it’s good for Regina and it’s just great for the rivalry so I’m excited to watch it unfold here in the coming years,” O’Leary said.
However, Yager said it’s not about the two players facing off in years to come, rather the two teams.
“Obviously he’s a great player and I want to be as good as I can too. There’s 25 other guys working their tails off too so I think this rivalry is something to watch, the Warriors versus Pats,” Yager said.
On Tuesday night, the Pats scored three consecutive goals in the first period to lead 3-0 less than 10 minutes into the contest. Then Yager notched his first WHL goal to put the Warriors on the board.
The rookie tipped the puck past Pats goaltender Roddy Ross off a pass from Warriors defenseman Denton Mateychuk.
“Obviously nice to get the first one. I was just trying to get in front and Denton had the perfect shot, just placed it on my stick and it went in,” Yager said.
“We all know what type of player he is and that he’s really gifted offensively, but when you watch his shifts and when you watch him play it’s his work away from the puck,” O’Leary noted. “He creates so much on his own just by playing an honest game.”
Yager finished the night with three points, adding an assist to tie the game at 4-4 in the third period. He went on to help Daemon Hunt score the overtime winner in the Warriors victory.
With no fans, it wasn’t how Yager expected his first rivalry game with the Pats to play out. He knows there will be more energy in the future.
“It’ll be a lot louder. You try to zone in there and keep the outside, outside and stick to the game plan.”
Bedard also had two assists in the Pats losing effort.
“He’s another guy you can get fixated on what he can do with the puck. But it’s leading up to those chances. The positions these guys, Brayden and Connor, they put themselves in, where they’re thinking one and two steps ahead, that give them those opportunities to showcase their skill,” O’Leary said.